One of the things I learned early on in life is that there are magical spaces scattered throughout this world. Places that are steeped in grace and filled to the brim with the power and the energy of countless pilgrims who have gone before us. Places where you can sit down and instantly the world starts to dissolve around you and you can feel your stresses and your worries and anxieties falling away like ash falling off a burning coal.
Some of these places are grand and monumental and they pull people to themselves from all across the world. The great Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem, the roaring basin of Niagara Falls, the steps into the Ganges of Varanasi in India. These are powerful places in this world.
But not all sacred spaces are great and universal, and not all of them call to all people in the same way. One of the tricks of this often wild and complicated life is finding the hidden gems of sacred space that already exist in our midst. Let those who have ears hear, let those who have eyes see, the grace of the Lord is all around us and all that’s asked of us is that we open ourselves up and let it in. The Laurentians hold something special within them, that’s why so many of you are here, when the whole world seems to be on the move into the cities and the busy places of our societies, you’ve chosen to be here in this sometimes wild, sometimes complicated, and oftentimes beautiful part of this country.
I’ve been blessed over the past three years with the opportunity to explore this great and expansive region and everywhere I’ve gone I’ve found places that feed my soul. Driving past the old tree farm up in Arundel brings me back to when I was a kid and would get up there on camping trips with cubs and scouts and look up at the stars and realize how bright they were and how many they were. Getting to Ste Agathe early on a Sunday morning I’d get to sit and sip a coffee on the little boardwalk down at the lake.
I remember walking through the small garden between the church and the hall in St Sauveur for the first time and marveling at how idyllic the early morning air felt up there in the hills. I remember the countless times I’ve sat in Mickey’s in Morin Heights with the fire burning on one side and cold, tired, skiers traipsing in on the other.
I remember the, also countless, times I’ve gotten lost on the way to Kilkenny and how peaceful it is to finally pull into that little meadow, off a dirt road, in the midst of the tall trees, or driving through Mille Isles in the Fall and having my breath taken away when cresting one of the small hills on chemin Black just to see an entire valley splayed out below, burning with the fire-y colours of leaves at their peak.
I remember wandering down to the little bubbling brook behind the community centre in Lakefield and watching this tiny trickle turn into a giant lake right in front of me, and I remember dropping into the monks’ chapel in Louisa and sitting in the cool dark with the scent of incense filling the air on a hot, sunny, summer afternoon.
I remember that spot on Dunany road where you careen down this hill and all of a sudden this marsh opens up on the side and when the moon is full it shimmers on the surface of the water and bathes everything in this glorious moonlight. And I remember snowshoeing up to the bluffs here in Lachute and seeing the entire town laid out before me, and picking out the familiar places.
These are just some of the places scattered throughout this region that have called to me, beckoned to me, since I first got up here three years ago. They’re some of the places that have filled my soul as I’ve made the rounds between the churches and they’re some of the places that I’ll treasure within my heart as I head West from here, because they’re not simply pretty places, they’re sacred places.
GRACE IN THE WORLD
When the disciples had gone out in mission and in power, and then returned to report back to Jesus, he gathered them together and brought them out to a deserted place to rest a while. He knew that they needed to be filled. They needed to experience all the grace that they’d been giving out to the world around them and so he led them to a place of great peace.
I think sometimes in the church we can get carried away with the idea that the mission entrusted to us by God is a mission for the sake of the world. We’ve bought into the lie that life is about being productive and it’s about achieving great things, be that in our careers, or in our relationships, or in the church. We’ve bought into the fallacy that the kingdom of God is somehow our responsibility and if we want to be good Christians we need to work ourselves to the bone to make sure that the church is still standing and looks exactly the same on that yonder judgement day.
I think sometimes we’ve forgotten that this world was created in love, and in joy, that when God cast the stars into the sky God laughed and clapped and delightfully shouted “this is good!” I think we’ve forgotten that we were created, not primarily to tend the garden, but to enjoy the garden, to inhabit the garden. I think we’ve forgotten the age old edict that we can only love our neighbour as far as we can first love ourselves. I think sometimes we’ve forgotten how to rest, how to enjoy, how to appreciate the beauty of life in this world.
There are small ways we can get back to that. It means learning to look around us like little children again, eyes wide with wonder and hope at the endless possibilities ahead of us. It means opening ourselves up to grace, being able to accept a thank you, being able to accept a gift, being able to accept a blessing. It means recognizing that you are of course worthy of good things in this life, and that worth doesn’t come from any of the things that put you in charge of this project, or that ministry, or those people, that worth comes from the fact that Jesus loves you.
One of the monks down in Boston, Br. Curtis, recently put it rather eloquently. He says “[t]hat Jesus loves you may be old news stored somewhere in the archives of your soul. If pushed, you might say Jesus used to love you, when you were more innocent and less complicated, or that Jesus’ love for you is theoretically true for the most part, or that it’s true with a qualification. Well, this is news for you, today, now. Jesus loves you.”
And that is as true for the person who’s been sitting in these pews for the past ninety years as it is for the person who just walked through the doors of a church for the very first time today. The claim that Jesus makes on your life, the invitation to rest, and the sending into the world, are both entirely what make you you, and the piece that makes you you, is also the piece that makes you essential to this world. The world, the church, the LRM couldn’t be what it is without each and every one of you, because God has invited you into this community.
GOING OUT WITH PASSION AND HEART
So what’s left to say? Despite all the words of the world. Despite the constant refrain of impending doom. Despite the fact that the world seems to be getting increasingly chaotic and unreliable. Despite all the things that would drag you down and see you hapless and hopeless, despite all that: this world is a gift. Your life is a gift. This region is a gift. You are a gift from God. And if you can recognize that within yourself then you’ve taken the first step in the greatest adventure ever. Because if you can see the beauty of the spark of God alive within yourself then you can see it alive within the world around you, in the people and the places that God has called into being. And if you can see the spark of divine life in those places then you can chase it. You can chase it with everything you’ve got. “Lord, just let us touch the fringe of your cloak and we’ll be healed”. You can embrace the power of Christ that’s stronger and that’s greater than the powers of this world. You can walk the steps of a disciple, and you can breathe the breath of a child of God, enflamed with a passionate love for the God who breathed you into being, and one encounter at a time, you can set the world aflame.
You can look with God’s eyes and you can see fire and you can see life in those who are different. You can get to know the young people of the area, you can listen to their deep thoughts and you can discover their hopes and their dreams. You can learn their culture and their language. You can get to know the strangers, the newcomers, the wild women and men who challenge the things you hold sacred because they’ve seen a different world and they’ve called other places home. You can bless the world around you, not because you must but because you’re able and because in love God has made you powerful.
You yourselves can become a sacred place, a sacred encounter, a sacred haven for the worn down and world weary. When you’ve been fed, and sheltered, and tended to by Christ, and you’ve been invited to share that gift with even one person sitting next to you, you can become the most sacred, most beautiful, most life giving gift this world has to offer. So with these parting words I invite you to take up your cross and to follow Jesus. Follow him into the places where you experience your worth, follow him out into the world where you share your light, your gift, with others around you.
In the words of our sisters and brothers in the United Church: “In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us. We are not alone. Thanks be to God.”